I can still remember how gobsmacked I was when I first laid eyes on Little Nightmares from Tarsier Studios. It was a trailer from one of the game’s very early reveals, 7 or 8 years ago, and during some manner of gaming event that I can’t quite recall. E3? Gamescom? Who knows. What I do remember vividly was a small child in a raincoat, wandering through some incredibly creepy environments, trying not to draw the attention of some seriously grotesque-looking individuals. The lighting, the depth-of-field trickery, the overall aesthetic of Little Nightmares was something that just spoke to me, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Well, this is a story as old as time at this point, but I did not in fact ever get my hands on it. Too many games, too little time, yadda, yadda, yadda. Little Nightmares somehow escaped into my backlog of shame, and now some six-plus years after it initially released and I still hadn’t gotten around to it. It’s not like it’s inaccessible to me, I own it! On two platforms no less, but it’s just never found its way in front of my eyeballs. However, what’s a surefire way to force me to finally try a game I’ve been meaning to try for years? Release it on mobile! Which is exactly what Playdigious has done with Little Nightmares this week. And unsurprisingly I’m kicking myself for not trying this game sooner.
There’s no polite way to put this: Little Nightmares is messed up. Right from the gate this game is filled with all sorts of disturbing imagery, made all the more disturbing by the juxtaposition of you playing as a helpless child. A child trapped in an awful place called The Maw, filled with awful people and awful things. This is a horror game, first and foremost. The actual mechanics fall somewhere between platformer and puzzle game, and if I’m being honest those are the least interesting bits for me. Some of the platforming is kind of awkward, some of the puzzling kind of obtuse, and in general I’m enjoying the parts where I’m just exploring new areas and being freaked out by whatever might be around the next corner more than I’m enjoying the “gamey” bits.
I would say these same criticisms are true of games like LIMBO and Inside as well, which Little Nightmares is very analogous to. Those games are all about the atmosphere, which Little Nightmares has in spades. The occasionally clunky gaming bits don’t really detract from the overall experience, and Playdigious has done a marvelous job of coming up with a unique gesture-based control system to clear the screen of clutter so you can focus on the great atmosphere and visuals (and not to be overlooked, the killer sound design). There’s also an option for more traditional virtual buttons as well as full controller support. Whatever way you choose to tackle Little Nightmares you’re covered, and it’s awesome having an experience like this available in my pocket.